British and Irish Lions: Warren Gatland makes three changes for Second Test against Springboks

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Mako Vunipola is back in the Lions’ starting lineup (Getty Images)
Mako Vunipola is back in the Lions’ starting lineup (Getty Images)

Warren Gatland has made three changes to his British and Irish Lions team for the Second Test against South Africa this Saturday, recalling the experienced duo Conor Murray and Mako Vunipola, and beefing up his midfield with Scotland centre Chris Harris.

The Lions put in a fine second-half performance to fight back from 12-3 down to win the First Test on Saturday. Now, they face what Gatland calls “the biggest game on the tour” in Cape Town.

Gatland has resisted wholesale changes, opting instead to tweak a winning side.

Vunipola came onto the bench for the series opener when Wales prop Wyn Jones was withdrawn late last week due to a shoulder injury. 

With Jones still unavailable and Vunipola putting in a fine showing off the bench, he is promoted to start ahead of Scotland’s Rory Sutherland. Vunipola began his third tour by being informed by Gatland that he was in the right physical condition for Test rugby, but held his own at scrum time on Saturday.

Murray, who was tour captain when Alun Wyn Jones was prematurely ruled out of the tour by a shoulder injury sustained against Japan (only to complete a remarkable recovery to play the first Test), is back at scrum-half. He replaces Ali Price, who drops to the bench having put in a sparky performance in the opener.

The selection of Harris ahead of Elliot Daly is a little surprise, after the Englishman endured a tough game in the First Test. Daly does, however, keep his place on a bench containing three backs, with Liam Williams dropping out of the 23 despite being available.

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Picking Murray and Harris in particular provides an indication of the more direct style the Lions are likely to employ this week, after it served them well in the second half of the First Test.

Dan Biggar has been selected at fly-half once more, with Owen Farrell on the bench, but the Welshman will need to prove he is fit to play after suffering concussion on Saturday. He is only able to train fully from Thursday this week.

Gatland has kept faith with many of his borderline selections for the First Test. He has stuck with Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg in the back three, meaning there is no place again for Williams or Josh Adams, while Jack Conan starts at No8 and Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker.

Taulupe Faletau returns to the 23 to win his fifth Lions cap, off the bench. There is still no place for Jamie George, another player who excelled on the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

“As always, selection was incredibly tough,” said Gatland. “However, we’ve made the changes we think are the right calls for the weekend’s game.

“It’ll be another tight contest. We know the Springboks will be hurting and they’ll throw everything at us on Saturday, but I think there’s plenty more to come from us too. We feel we can go up another level from where we were in the first Test and I would expect us to improve.

“It’s the biggest game on the Tour and we have to embrace the expectation that comes with it. As players and coaches, these are the games you want to be involved in. We’re relishing the opportunity to face the Springboks again on Saturday and potentially seal a series win.”

The war of words between the two camps has been bubbling, with Springboks’ Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus using Twitter to highlight questionable play by the Lions, and Gatland putting pressure on South Africa, who are due to name their 23 later today, a day earlier than originally scheduled.

Lions team in full: Hogg; A.Watson, Harris, Henshaw, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Murray; M.Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Furlong; Itoje, AW Jones (c); Lawes, Curry, Conan.

Replacements: Owens, Sutherland, Sinckler, Beirne, Faletau; Price, Farrell, Daly.

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